The Arkansas Razorbacks, under Bret Bielema, have developed a reputation over the course of a college football season.
The Hogs have stumbled in September, worked their way through an uneven October, and then finished with noticeably more quality in November. Under BERT, Arkansas normally doesn’t put the “Woo!” into Woo Pig Sooie until the chill in the air arrives and the leaves have turned throughout the land.
For a brief while this season, it seemed the narrative was going to be different.
Arkansas outlasted TCU in a double-overtime (Joe) “Tess Effect” thriller and outplayed Texas A&M for most of the first two and a half quarters in Jerry Jones’s pleasure palace on September 24. However, an A&M goal-line stand made possible by questionable (to put it mildly) officiating turned that game around on a dime. Arkansas was not the same after that moment. The Razorbacks became shredded Pork against the Aggies, and frankly, they haven’t ever recovered.
Alabama brought the Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer to Bielema’s boys this past weekend. Arkansas finds itself at an all-too-familiar October crossroads…
… but now comes the plot twist: The 2016 SEC West schedule isn’t the one Arkansas and Bielema have grown accustomed to.
From 2006 through 2012, Ole Miss and Arkansas played in October. However, the past three years — which coincide with the start of Bielema’s tenure in Fayetteville — the Rebels have answered the Hog call in November. In 2014 and 2015, Arkansas — after learning how to compete in September and October — bested Ole Miss in November. In 2014, the Razorbacks flattened the Rebels, and last year, they won by a point, enabled by one of the wackiest and most absurd plays in college football history, “Woo Pig Lateral.”
Once by early knockout and once by the narrowest of decisions after 15 rounds of exhausting competition, Arkansas threw a monkey wrench into an Ole Miss season. The Hogs twice enabled Nick Saban and Alabama to climb past Mississippi and overcome a loss to Hugh Freeze’s forces earlier in the season. In many ways, Arkansas has contributed to Alabama’s back-to-back SEC championships and College Football Playoff appearances. November Bielema magic has become a potent product.
This year, though, Arkansas can’t work out the kinks or take time to develop a better weekly rhythm. Ole Miss — seeking a third straight New Year’s Six bowl but owning virtually no margin for error — comes to the Woo Pig Sooie Wonderland in search of revenge. Arkansas might have lived high on the Hog in this series the last two years, but if it can’t extend its winning streak against the Rebels, Bielema will be staring at a fourth-place finish in the West… under a best-case scenario. Alabama, A&M and Ole Miss would gain a stranglehold on the top three spots. Arkansas would be thrust into a mid-level battle with LSU and Auburn for fourth, knowing full well that it could fall to sixth if it doesn’t meet the challenges of the two Tigers from Baton Rouge and the Alabama Plains.
Arkansas can’t build toward a backloaded November this year. Ole Miss stands on the opposite sideline on October 15, intent on gaining Pork-flavored payback.
Will this uncomfortable October equation add up to renewal for the Razorbacks, or will this program — unable to find a foothold in the top tier of the SEC West — watch another season dissolve into the mists of relative mediocrity?